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Politics


In November, "concern" won’t cut it for Bowser

Muriel Bowser has won the Democratic nomination for DC mayor. Do you know what she stands for?


Photo by weeviraporn on Flickr.

Bowser, who represents Ward 4 on the DC Council, has won what's typically the District's highest-profile race while generally minimizing the amount of discussion on her vision for the city. Sure, she supports better education, jobs, lower crime, affordable housing and a functional government. But every other candidate in the primary backed those things, too.

Bowser was quite adept at citing facts and figures but also showed a real talent for framing issues in a way that sounded good to everyone. She generally praised many ideas in the abstract but remained noncommittal as they became concrete.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Politics


DC's staggered elections give a random half of politicians an edge for higher office. That's a problem.

The system of elections in the District of Columbia gives a big advantage to councilmembers who represent half of the wards over those elected from the other half. This discourages good councilmembers from running for mayor or council chair.


Staggered lane number image from Shutterstock.

Half the council seats, for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6 and two of the at-large seats, come up for election in the same years as the mayor and council chair (such as this year). The other half, wards 2, 4, 7, and 8 and the other two at-large seats, run in the even-numbered years in between (such as 2012 and 2016).

This means councilmembers holding one of the mayoral/chair election cycle seats must choose between running for re-election or trying for higher office. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the other half of the seats can avoid taking risks and run for chair or mayor without giving up their seats.

Since half of all councilmembers must vacate their seats to run for mayor or council chair, the mayoral system dissuades some of the city's most experienced and productive leaders from running for DC's top government posts. The data show that this is indeed happening.

Since DC home rule was enacted in 1973, those in off-mayoral/chair seats have run for council chair 4 times and for mayor 17 times. Conversely, those in mayoral/chair election cycle seats have run for council chair 3 times and for mayor 6 times (and 4 of which were incumbent council chairs).

If this continues then one can expect more candidatesand more mayorsfrom Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8, thus giving an undue advantage to councilmembers and their constituents from those wards. Indeed, all three DC mayors elected with prior council experience (four if you count Marion Barry twice) came from one of those wards, and only Arrington Dixon and Linda Cropp have ascended from off-cycle seats to chair. Even Cropp is a particular exception as she won during a special election, and thus her council seat wasn't at risk.

What can be done?

DC could extend council seats to 6-year terms and have councilmembers alternate running between mayoral and non-mayoral elections. Or, there could be separate primaries for chair and mayor, similar to what we do for presidential elections.

Even better, we can follow the federal model and let people stand for two offices at once, as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan did during the 2012 election while running for vice president. Or, perhaps DC rearranges the election calendar so all council seats come up for election in council-only elections, while the chair and mayor have their own elections.

DC should explore all options to ensure its election calendar and political circumstance doesn't discourage quality candidates. The current system is unfair to half the city. Of all places, the nation's capital needs a system that encourages its political talent to seek higher office and is fair to all its voters.

Politics


For Arlington County Board: Alan Howze

Greater Greater Washington endorsed Alan Howze for Arlington County Board in the recent Democratic caucus. He is still the best candidate in what is shaping up to be a very competitive special election April 8.


Image from the candidate website.

Howze strongly supports Arlington's streetcar plans, investment in transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. He deeply understands the connection between land use and transportation, between density and affordable housing.

While the streetcar is not the only issue in Arlington, it is the main focus of this campaign. Howze wrote a convincing argument in Arlington Streetcar Now's questionnaire explaining how streetcar is an investment that will pay dividends and support other county projects, rather than just another desirable amenity.

The recent return on investment study shows clear economic benefits for the streetcar versus the "enhanced bus" alternatives that streetcar opponents have been pushing. That has not stopped a contingent of dedicated opponents from rallying behind Howze opponent John Vihstadt, who is a member of the anti-streetcar group AST.

Vihstadt is trying to win with a coalition of streetcar opponents, residents upset about some other specific county initiative, and those who oppose county spending in general, because much of it doesn't benefit them directly. He has been trying to paint the current county board as profligate spenders, when in fact investing in projects that make the county better during times of strong budgets is a wise move.

Janet Murphy, an Independent Green, agrees very strongly with our views on many issues, but is not running a significant campaign and has raised virtually no money. Stephen W.C. Holbrook's candidacy is also marginal and he is running essentially on one issue, against a homeless shelter in the Courthouse area.

This election will likely draw very low turnout. In such a strongly Democratic county, the Democratic candidate would be the overwhelming favorite in a November election, but many Arlington residents are not paying very close attention to the issues or don't even know there is an election. Vihstadt may be able to assemble enough angry and motivated voters with his platform that opposes the streetcar and other popular county initiatives.

It is very important for Arlington voters to participate on April 8 and we urge them to support Alan Howze.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this endorsement, regular contributors who live in Arlington discussed the race and reached a consensus about the endorsement.

Politics


If you live in DC, vote Tuesday!

Tuesday, April 1 is the primary election in DC. If you live in DC and haven't voted early, go vote! If you're not registered, DC offers same-day registration.


Photo by Paul on Flickr.

In the Democratic primary, Greater Greater Washington has endorsed the following candidates. In some races, we didn't make an official endorsement where there wasn't clear consensus among our contributors and editors, but we provided insight into our possibly varied thinking.

Politics


Will the next mayor build a new football stadium?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

There's a lot of popular support inside DC for having the Washington NFL team play its games in the District instead of Landover, Maryland. But at what cost, and is that worth it?


Photo by Aaron G Stock on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray thinks so. He said,

I think it's got economic development potential. We've seen it with the baseball stadium. There were those who were very skeptical about whether the baseball stadium would have any catalytic effect at all. ... We can see what's happening there and I think the stadium and the team both are a factor in that.

And then I think it's something as straightforward as civic spirit.

There are people who believe our Washington team contribute to the psychic healthespecially when they winof the city. And all these years later, the team has been gone now 16, 17 years maybe longer, but I hear people constantly, constantly say to me, "Hey Mayor, when are we going to get the Washington football team back in to the city?"
Gray also believes locating the stadium in the city would lead to more players living in the city, as he said has happened with the Wizards and Capitals: "Far more of those players live in the city than would otherwise be the case if they were practicing outside the District of Columbia," he said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember who is also running for mayor, talked about his vision to rebuild RFK stadium as a new, 75,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

When you mention the football team, people want the team back in the city. And even people in the suburbs want the team back in the city. ... What is a good location for it? Obviously the RFK site makes the most sense ... keeping in mind that it is federal land. ... The law states the only thing that can be constructed on that land is a stadium.
I pointed out that, in fact, the law simply says it should serve a recreational use, not necessarily professional football, but Evans still favors a football stadium.
In the metropolitan region, that is the best site for a football stadium, barring none, because of the transportation. You have the subway right on site, and a bunch of access roads. When then Nationals were playing at that stadium when the Yankees came to town, and we sold out 50-some thousand people at that stadium. We were able to get people in and out very quickly. That's the model you would use for a 75,000-seat stadium: The access, the location, there's so much benefit there. One could argue you could use it for something different, but if you're going to put a stadium in the metropolitan area, that's where you would put it.
Evans also said that the stadium would bring in development, "like we're seeing around Nationals Stadium or over at the Verizon Center." He called the idea a "big economic driver."

Meanwhile, Ward 6 council candidate Charles Allen doesn't think a stadium is the best use of the RFK site (which immediately abuts Ward 6):

I think building a stadium for 8 days out of the year is a bad idea. When you look at that site right now, it's an ocean of asphalt.

There's an amazing proposal called the Capital Riverside Youth Sports Park. We need to have more green space. I want to rip up all that asphalt and replace it with this concept, and have it run all the way to the Anacostia.

It's also an environmental justice issue. Every time we have a storm, every time we pile up snow and call it Mount Fenty, we have a devastating impact on the Anacostia River.


Sketch of proposed Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park. Image from CRYSP.

Allen's opponent, Darrel Thompson, would like to bring the team back to DC, but not at the RFK site. "RFK is not the best site," he said. "We should find another location. ... You've got an awful lot of residents that don't want to see that. We have to make sure we've been listening to the residents."

But, I asked, any potential site would likely have residents opposed. Is it realistic to say the team should come back to the District but not at RFK because residents don't want it there. "We've got to look at all the different options," he responded.

At-large DC Council candidates John Settles and Pedro Rubio would like to see alternate uses for the site, possibly including housing. Settles said, "I look at RFK, and I see too much opportunity. I'd like to redevelop that. It could be a great mixed-use village that has everything from housing to entertainment space to fields to green space."

Rubio said, "As much as I want the Redskins to play in DC, with the traffic that comes with it, the space that's needed for affordable housing, I like them where they are right now. We can use the space for affordable housing, for nonprofits, colleges and schools."

Brianne Nadeau, who is running for council in Ward 1, isn't totally opposed to a stadium deal, but doesn't see it as very realistic to find a deal that's actually good for DC.

I don't think we have a football team owner that's particularly amenable to working with the District in a way that we would benefit. If that changes, I would rethink that. The other thing is with a football team, they take up a lot of space. There's so much parking lot area. ... I think we would have to be creative if we were ever going to do [a stadium]. How do we use it for the other 8 months of the year, and make sure it's the best use of space?
Her opponent, incumbent councilmember Jim Graham, would wait and see if there is every a real proposal. He said, "Dreaming is very important. I think people should continue to have [dreams]. ... When there's something there to hold onto, let's talk about it. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in that regard."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Vincent Gray:

Jack Evans:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Brianne Nadeau:

Jim Graham:

Politics


Candidates voice skepticism about a soccer stadium land swap deal

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

Would swapping land at 14th and U for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point be a good deal for DC? Some candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary don't think so, while others want to ensure that a change benefits the affected neighborhoods of Buzzard Point and U Street.


Photo by Chase McAlpine on Flickr.

The Gray administration is negotiating to transfer the Reeves Center municipal office building at 14th and U to developer Akridge, in exchange for Akridge's land in Buzzard Point. This would be one element of a multi-faceted deal to assemble land for a DC United soccer stadium.

The full details of the deal aren't public or may not even be worked out yet, but candidates reacted to what we do know so far. Many think the land swap plan is too complicated.

Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham said, "The numbers that I have seen suggest that we're paying high for a scrappy piece of property in an undesirable area, and underpaying for a government asset in a highly desirable area. Hold an auction for the Reeves building. People tell me you would be amazed how much money would be bid for the property."

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 member who's running for mayor, said, "I wouldn't do it that way. If you start with the premis that building a soccer stadium at that site is a good idea, and I do, the mayor's proposal is too complicated. It's hard to understand, hard to evaluate. People become very distrustful. If I would do it using the Reeves Centerand I'm not saying I would do thatI would just sell the Reeves Center and use the market price to buy the land, rather than trying to do it a way that looks suspicious."

John Settles, running against Anita Bonds for council at large, feels similarly. "I love DC United. I'm a soccer fan and a soccer coach. I don't think swapping the Reeves Center is a good strategy. I'd rather see the city just buy the 2 acres of land." He said that a new project to replace Reeves could represent an opportunity for affordable housing for families, coworking and incubator space for technology companies, and the arts.

Pedro Rubio, also running for the at-large seat, also said he supports the stadium at Buzzard Point, especially since many Latino residents and young people follow the team, but said, "I don't like the land swap." He worries about losing city services at the Reeves Center like the LGBT community center and Office of Latino Affairs.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 councilmember and candidate for mayor, doesn't think the city would be getting a good deal on the land swap, and isn't very supportive of using public resources. for a stadium at all. She said, "If the mayor can make a case for using $150 million of city resources, we have to be assured we're getting what we deserve for the Reeves center, and what I've heard preliminarily makes me nervous."

On the question of whether a $150 million deal makes sense overall, she said, "We have a billionaire owner .... Some people would ask the question, why do we have to give them $150 million? We have a lot of priorities for DC." Though, she noted, "I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District, and there are a lot of District residents who support the team."

Ward 1 candidates want office space at Reeves

Other candidates, especially candidates for individual ward seats, focused on the impacts to individual communities and the best ways to use the land. Both the Reeves Center and the Buzzard Point are in Wards (1 and 6, respectively) with competitive council races.

Both Graham and his Ward 1 challenger, Brianne Nadeau, want to make sure there is office space at 14th and U in any building that would replace Reeves. Graham said, "We've got plenty of luxury condos and rentals. What we don't have is enough daytime commerce. If we lose the Reeves Ctr and those government agencies, that will be very upsetting."

Nadeau said she wants: "to create some dynamic ground-level retail and community space. Even before this deal came about, I had been thinking, what could we do about the Reeves Center? Open up that atrium, create lunch space and music like you see in some cities like Norfolk. For me it's about how do you take this an make it an opportunity."

"The reason I want that is, if you want a commercial corridor that has balanced options, you need an anchor and foot traffic for the daytime retail. ... We fought first for the hotel at 13th and U, and having lost that, we're fighting for the commercial anchor. It's essential we get the best use for the community and not just the best for the city."

As for the overall merit of the deal, Nadeau said she's amenable to city resources helping fund a soccer stadium which could create jobs, so long as "those are good jobs" with a Project Labor Agreement, and opportunities for the workers to unionize.

Ward 6 candidates think about Southwest residents' needs

In Ward 6, Charles Allen wants to ensure that any deal comes with investments for the area, including improving the public housing in the area, and adding parkland. He said, "When the baseball stadium was built, the city build Yards Park. Yards Park brings just as many people into that neighborhood and has been just as catalytic for that neighborhood as the baseball stadium has been. Southwest needs its own version of Yards Park. I think we need to use this as am opportunity to invest in our public space, and invest in our green space, and invest in the river."

Darrell Thompson started his statement being strongly supportive of the potential deal, though as he spoke he also brought up concerns about getting a good deal and making sure immediate neighbors have input. "It's a good idea," he said. "It's a very good idea. ... It first and foremost gives us an opportunity to come back to where we started, providing jobs, job training and apprenticeships for District residents.

"But we also have to make sure it's a good deal for District residents. We have to have input, make sure their concerns are heard. There's a tax structure to this project that's still being worked out. We have to make sure this is a good deal for District taxpayers."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Jim Graham:

Jack Evans:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Muriel Bowser:

Brianne Nadeau:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

Education


DC schools need a mayor who's in a hurry

Ask most of the candidates in the District's April 1 Democratic primary about the gap between our most and least successful public schools, and they'll tell you they want every school to be great. That's a laudable aspiration, but at our current pace it will take more than a generation to get there. Sadly, few candidates support acting boldly to change the lives of students being left behind.


Photo by Eirien on Flickr.

The District's traditional public schools have made significant strides, with scores rising to the point at which last year 47 percent of D.C. Public Schools students scored proficient in reading on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (D.C.-CAS), the District's standardized test, and 50 percent did so in math. But that means only about half of our students are able to perform fairly basic math and reading tasks.

There is a long way to go. And the gap in achievement between wealthier and poor kids not only persists but also is increasing in some areas.

The bottom line is that the pace of change has been excruciatingly slow, with scores rising only about 1.3 percentage points per year. At that rate, true change will not come until the children of many of today's elementary school students are starting school.

Continue reading our latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Politics


Columbia Pike streetcar becomes the central issue in Arlington's special election

Arlington voters will pick a replacement for county board member Chris Zimmerman in a special election April 4 April 8. While the two candidates have a lot in common, their take on the Columbia Pike streetcar sets them apart. One calls it an important part of the county's transportation network, while the other says it's a waste of money.


Rendering from Arlington County.

Democratic nominee Alan Howze, who was selected in a January caucus, and independent John Vihstadt aren't that far apart on most issues. Both support the county's efforts on smart growth and affordable housing. They also both support the county's move to establish a new homeless shelter at Courthouse, and they agree on some national issues, like marriage equality.

But they're divided over the Columbia Pike streetcar, the 4.9-mile line between Pentagon City and Bailey's Crossroads which has the support of most of the current board, but strong opposition from some.

Vihstadt is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, an anti-streetcar group which argues the streetcar is too expensive and will not move as many people as estimated. If elected, Vihstadt would join board member Libby Garvey, who also opposes the streetcar.

He told the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now that he wants to evaluate how BRT performs on the Crystal City/Potomac Yard transitway before committing funds to any project on Columbia Pike. AST has been advocating for Bus Rapid Transit on Columbia Pike, but their comments, and Vihstadt's statement here, glosses over the issue that BRT is not possible on Columbia Pike since there is no room for a dedicated lane, unlike for Crystal City-Potomac Yard.

Vihstadt would split the money dedicated to the project between buses on Columbia Pike and other projects throughout the county, which is appealing to some voters elsewhere in the county that want more resources spent on projects in their area.

Despite initially being publicly on the fence about the project, Howze does support the streetcar. He believes it will move more people and help support new development. In a position paper on the subject, he rejects the criticism that funds for the project will take away resources from other county priorities like schools, noting that schools take up half of the county's capital projects budget, and the streetcar hovers at around 10%.

But it's clear that calls to rein in county spending have had an effect on him. Howze has repeated that he's not someone who will just rubberstamp projects and not pay attention to costs. He says that "no project has a blank check" in regards to the county's proposed Long Bridge Aquatic Center. At a recent candidates' forum, he said the county spent too much money on a new dog park in Clarendon.

The special election's unusual date means that voter turnout will be low. Howze will have to count on Democrats being happy with the way the county has performed and the priorities it has set. Vihstadt, meanwhile, is banking on support from unhappy voters across the political spectrum who want to reverse or slow down the pace of some projects in the county. He says being the only non-Democrat on the board would be a strength, arguing the board needs more political diversity.

At the same time, there is a primary election coming up on June 8 to select a nominee to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Moran. That primary features many local leaders in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax, which means it has gotten a lot of attention while many voters may not be focusing closely on the county board race.

Some observers think that by taking a reluctant stance toward many county projects, Howze may generate lower levels of enthusiasm among his potential supporters as compared to Vihstadt, who has been trying to appeal to various groups of voters that have a specific bone of contention with the current board. If few people vote and enough disgruntled Democrats in Arlington vote with independents and Republicans, Vihstadt is likely to win.

The victor will not have much time to rest, as the winner will have to defend his seat again in November's general election.

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